Michigan (8-3 Big Ten) finds itself trailing Indiana (9-2) and Michigan State (9-2) in the chase for the Big Ten title—so this is an especially big game for the Wolverines, who will get a return trip from the Spartans later this season. In fact, some think it’s a must-win game for Michigan. If they lose, the Wolverines will be two games behind Indiana and MSU.
Here’s a look at the week ahead.
Game of the week: Michigan at Michigan State, Tuesday. The Wolverines have won three of the last four in the series, although the Spartans have yet to lose at home this season. Michigan is coming off a tough overtime loss at Wisconsin on Saturday. How will it respond playing in a tough environment? Can Michigan’s front line match the big, physical and tough Spartans’ front line? Can Michigan State shoot well enough to keep on par with the Wolverines’ array of marksmen? This is gonna be fascinating—it also will be the first time these schools will meet as top-10 teams.
Don’t overlook this game: Ohio State at Wisconsin, Sunday. The Kohl Center may be the best home court advantage in the Big Ten. And the Badgers have to be feeling especially good at home, winning their last two in Madison in downing Iowa in double overtime and Michigan in overtime. Conversely, the Buckeyes enter this week coming off an overtime road loss to Michigan and a double-digit home loss to Indiana. If Wisconsin can impose its will on the Buckeyes, this game will be played in 50s and be a grind-it-out affair. I’m gonna say Aaron Craft will guard Ben Brust. And the loser of this game is basically out of the running for the conference crown.
Must win: We know Michigan must beat Michigan State on Tuesday in East Lansing. But also keep an eye on Minnesota at Wisconsin on Thursday. The Badgers have won three in a row and four of five to climb back into the Big Ten race with an 8-3 mark. If they want to stay there, they must defeat a floundering—and desperate–Golden Gophers squad that has lost six of their last eight and is looking to polish their fading NCAA hopes. Wisconsin won the first meeting, 45-44. Minnesota will have no chance unless it limits turnovers and shoots well, which have been issues on the road for Tubby Smith’s team.
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Best individual matchup: Michigan State’s Keith Appling vs. Michigan’s Trey Burke. The point guards for both teams are key. The Spartans aren’t a great shooting club, so it will be important for Appling—along with Gary Harris and Travis Trice, if he plays—to hit some shots to open the paint for the MSU big fellas. Burke makes it all happen for the Michigan, and he’s able to beat anyone off the dribble or drain a three-pointer. Those skills give every other Wolverine ample room to operate.
Upset alert: Could Purdue win at Illinois on Wednesday? The Boilermakers have won eight consecutive games in the series, including a 68-61 victory Jan. 2 at Mackey Arena. But the Illini are suddenly hot, coming off a huge home victory over No. 1 Indiana on Thursday and a key triumph at No. 18 Minnesota on Sunday. Bottom line: Illinois can’t afford to lose this game if it wants to make the NCAA tourney, which likely will require an 8-10 Big Ten mark.
Big week: Wisconsin. This is it, the Badgers’ big chance to show they are a legit Big Ten title contender by playing at Minnesota on Thursday and playing host to Ohio State on Sunday. Win both, and Bo Ryan’s team can start to dream big. Wisconsin enters the week on a roll, having won three in a row and four of five.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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